Judi Fairfield dabs a mousselike foam on her sheep to make him look fluffier.
Jennifer McLean puts glue in her steer’s tail and then combs it into a fat ball to make his backside look fuller.
Anna Dingman shaves her pig’s ears to give it that clean-cut look.
This primping and preening of barnyard animals may seem strange - if not downright bizarre - to the livestock-illiterate.
But these are the tricks of the trade kids use for that winning edge at the North Idaho Fair livestock competition.
These youths raise their farm animals, show them at the fair and then sell them for slaughter - often saving the profits for college.
To win the top prizes and fetch the best prices, the animals must be immaculately groomed and possess the well-fed yet muscular look that suggests they’ll yield a scrumptious steak or lamb chop.
While contestants in the South and Midwest have been caught using steroids and other illegal tactics to win, Kootenai County fair officials say they’ve seen none of that trickery in North Idaho.
Instead, these kids employ tactics that would make a professional hair stylist envious.
Fairfield, an 11-year-old from Dalton, has been showing sheep for four years. On Wednesday, her lamb Voyager patiently waited as she clipped and combed his nearly immaculate white wool.
“Sometimes they get poop stains on them and you just have to wash it out,” she said with a resigned shrug.
But as an experienced sheep shower, Fairfield knows it takes more than soap and water to achieve the winning look.
She rubs mineral oil on Voyager’s black legs, face and ears to give them a sheen. She soaks each foot in a bucket of water and then puts black polish on his hooves.
Fairfield also uses a “show foam.” The mousse-like substance puffs and firms the lamb’s wool, hopefully making Voyager’s legs feel a tad larger to the judge.
Most of the animals will go through two competitions. During the quality competition, judges look for the steer, sheep and pig that provides the best meat. During the fitting and showing competition, judges look for good showmanship from the youth and the cleanest, best-behaved animal.
Dingman, 14, of Coeur d’Alene bathes her prize-winning swine, Milton, in only the best: Ivory dish soap - the kind for delicate hands.
“I think it’s more sensitive on his skin,” she said as Milton snuggled down into the dirt and sawdust for an afternoon nap.
On Tuesday, Kiwi the heifer stood with the hair on her rump spiked up. McLean, 13, of Post Falls uses an adhesive to puff the hair on her animals.
“It’s like giving them a mohawk,” she said with a smile. Spiky hair on the back gives a nice straight look to the animal’s backbone. Fluffed hair on the legs makes the thighs look bigger.
If a cow or pig looks too fatty, some competitors take their animals for walks to make them more muscular, said McLean’s dad, Wade.
“It’s just like getting in shape,” he said.
A quick tickle on a sheep’s tummy as the judge walks by will straighten out the animal’s bowed back, said Cathy Rider, leader of the Harmony Hustlers 4-H group.
In Denver, a boy was banned for life from a livestock show after his parents fed the animal an illegal steroid-like drug to make him look more muscular. During a Texas fair a boy rammed a hose down his pig’s throat to help it gain weight. The animal died. Other competitors have turned to cosmetic surgery .
“We’re not even going to allow that to get a foothold here,” said Jim Wilson, extension educator for 4-H youth.
Part of the reason that kind of cheating hasn’t happened in North Idaho is because the prize money isn’t nearly as high as elsewhere in the country. A steer here might bring in $3,000 Wilson said. In Denver, the steroid steer sold for $37,000.
Two years ago, Kootenai County officials started testing all the grand and reserve champion animals for illegal drugs but found none, Wilson said.
This year officials will test any animal they suspect may have been given illegal drugs. If caught cheating, contestants can be stripped of their prizes, cash and place at livestock competitions.
Lee Pugsley, a 12-year-old sheep-showing veteran, knows the real key to a winning animal.
“You have to feed them lots,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SHOW TIMES For those who want to see what a lot of soaping, brushing and primping can do to a barnyard animal, the fitting and showing competitions will be held at the North Idaho Fair today. 8 a.m. - Swine fitting and showing Noon - Sheep fitting and showing 3 p.m. - Beef fitting and showing 5 p.m. - Finals for beef, sheep and swine